Old friends, new "enemies": QOTD
After Monday's practice, I asked Artest about today's game against Houston, his first time facing the Rockets since leaving their roster. The Lakers being Ron's fifth team, he's certainly no stranger to competing against a franchise that once employed him. Players like to downplay these particular matchups ("It's just another game" being the most popular cliche.), but there's an undeniable charge from going mano y' mano with your old squad. Particularly when the situation involves getting traded or the team opts to let you go as a free agent, the latter applying to Artest. On the surface, the makings of a garden-variety "gunning to drop 35 on your asses" matchup, but the specifics make things a little different.
Not only is he barely removed from his stint as a Rocket (five games into the new season), but time in Houston helped rebuild Artest's rep as a professional. Even in a contract year that might prompt his best behavior and an established relationship with Rick Adelman, the "Ron Artest business" was considered a risky one. The move paid off, as Artest played some of the best ball of his career and was regarded as a team leader, a tag not exactly littering his resume. In the meantime, an unpredictability more quirky than volatile emerged for Artest. He seemed genuinely happy in Houston, which hadn't always been the case in the past. The feeling was mutual as fans mobbed him during the final moments of Houston's first round series against the Blazers. This moment put the "i" in "irony," which wasn't lost on Artest.
I imagine Artest will get a friendly treatment. He helped Houston reach the postseason's second round for the first time since 1997 in a campaign devoid of any true drama and didn't quite "skip out" on the Rockets. Injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady made a multi-year return fairly impractical. Thus, no hard feelings. Along those lines, Artest's situation is intertwined with Ariza's, which got me thinking.
Eleven days from now, when Ariza hits Staples for the first time as a non-Laker, how would you treat him? Would you focus on his rather sour departure from the organization, the result of negotiations stalemated so quickly hat bad feelings appear to linger? Trevor played well and hard for the Lakers, but at the same time, the Lakers were also the first team to ever truly believe in him, which some fans may think merits loyalty. Even if you blame Ariza's agent for pushing him out the door or being difficult to work with, Trevor is ultimately an adult capable of making decisions. On the flip side, the guy played a large role in bringing a title to L.A. and was a very good Laker. Is that enough to overlook the exit "stage left" details?
Personally, I'd cheer the guy rather heartily. The pleasure I got from seeing that banner raised outweighs whatever displeasure I felt watching Ariza's negotiations play out in frustrating- and in my opinion- unnecessarily ridiculous fashion. Thus, I consider TA in line for some gratitude. But there are some who feel you're either with or against the Lakers Ariza now qualifies as "against." Is that too big a sin to forgive? I predict it won't be for most fans, but you never know. Some dudes I wouldn't have predicted got some razzing from the crowd (Brian Grant?) I'm curious to hear his greeting.
Also, this video has nothing to do with the game or even the Lakers, but I thought it was worth including. In explaining the origins of his unusual hair cut, partially a tribute to late friend and basketball mentor Mike Chatfield, Artest notes how difficult it can be to escape the pitfalls of inner-city streets, particularly when parents don't play an active, positive role. Interesting stuff.